Hierarchy of Oppressions Redux

Once again, oppressions are all bad. Classism, racism, sexism, ableism are all oppressions. A new book by a University of Illinois at Chicago scholar: “The Trouble With Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality” attempts to place classism as the worst of the worst oppressions.

It makes me nervous when a white professor says that class trumps race:

“We must shift our focus from cultural diversity to economic equality to help alter the political terrain of contemporary American life.”

Why can’t “we” focus on both cultural diversity and economic equality?

Oppressions are interconnected. The “isms” feed off of each other. Eliminating class inequality would be great, but what about all forms of inequality? Fixing one problem (classism) while furthering marginalization (in this case, racism) just creates more injustice.

Professor Michaels, diversity is not troublesome.

  • I noticed that book while searching online as well. I’d like to read it when I have time (haha!).

    Really, I think he might be onto something: if we eliminate economic class by eliminating the economic system, then we might be onto something. Of course, I don’t think it’s adequate to say class trumps all Others, especially in a system as complicated as State Capitalism. The real answer lies in complete negation of our barbarian society as it is.

    Can you tell I’ve been reading Critical Social Theory. Ugh. My mind is about to explode and my heart is about to crash.

  • Jos van Uden

    In order to “fix inequality”, a group of people (government) will have to intervene in the natural dynamics of a society. Because people will not voluntarily conform to the artificial ideal of total equality (human weakness), the state will have to take away those choices and liberties that would otherwise allow them to deviate from the ideal. This will however create a huge imbalance of power between the state and it’s citizens (corruption). Sound familiar? Welcome to the Soviet Union.

    By the way, in this new order where all inequality is “fixed”, will beautiful people still be allowed to have more power than plain people? Are smart people going to be allowed to benefit from their advantage over stupid people? Are tall people going to have to pay special taxes? Are popular people going to be forced to share their popularity with nerds? How about healthy and sick people? Who’s going to decide when there’s enough equality?

  • @Jos – Thanks for commenting. I’m a little confused regarding the concept that total equality is an “artificial ideal” that is equal to “human weakness.” What do you mean?

    I would ask why lookism is an acceptable part of US culture? Why are some people given unearned privileges simply because of their identities (In this case, how they look)?

    I think that the elimination of oppressions, which create hierarchies and strip the dignity of some people while simultaneously privileging others, is an ethical obligation.

    I believe that social justice oriented change is not solely dependent on government intervention. After all, the US government is part of the institutionalized system of oppression in the US.

  • Jos van Uden

    The natural order of human society is not egalitarian, that’s why the ideal is artificial. People will not conform to such an ideal voluntarily BECAUSE of human weakness. That’s why it needs to be enforced. That’s where the dilemma of all egalitarians lies: it’s morally superior but out of step with human nature.

    I realize that you probably have great faith in the possibility of social construction. I am more sceptical about that. In my opinion people are like an elastic band: you can stretch them but not indefinitely. Alle egalitarian movements have failed so far for the same reason: homo sapiens is not an egalitarian creature, and cannot be molded into one.

    When I read your posts, I get the impression that you live very much in a world of abstractions. I’m more concerned with the practicalities. What exactly is equality? There are not two persons on the planet who are truly equal to each other. What is a class? In the natural world there is no such thing as a class. It’s an abstraction we create for convenience. You can group any number of people together, depending on your criteria.

    Anyway, we’re clearly on different frequencies, that happens so often on blogs. I just wanted to take the opportunity to share my view.

  • After I read this last comment I was reminded of a section within Luke Sugie and Michael Faris’ “Queerfesta.” I feel that it articulates my feelings regarding practicalities with relation to your comment. Cheers.

    A. Whenever someone talks about idealism, qualitative change, or marxist critiques of the superstructure and infrastructure, the immediately response is often:

    That sounds great, but let’s be practical.

    And if the term used is not practical, it’s realistic.

    I propose that we stop using these terms, which, in my opinion, are used solely to limit the way we think about change and instead use the word instrumental. I choose the word instrumental because that’s what I think practical and realistic ideas are: use as an instrument to continue certain power structures, something with clear use-value and exchange value.

    It also has a dark, insidious ring to it, like it’s something the followers of Darth Vader might say.

    Can you imagine in 2004 when I said “I support Dennis Kucinich because of X, Y, and Z,” and someone responded with:

    Well, his ideas are great and all, but let’s be instrumental.

    It suddenly reveals the subserviant nature of so-called practicality.

    Or: “I support universal health care, regardless of someone’s job, income, or family status,” and someone replies:

    Well, I agree with you, but we have to be instrumental.

    And it’s apparent that we are being instrumental to what? The government? Insurance companies?

    I guess my point is that we need to be thinking about when we say something is practical. Really, we’re being cynics who support power structures that are oppressive, and really, we’re being instruments used in those power structures.

    B. I just had a very similar conversation with my brother while walking our dog in the rain. It was in reference to “being practical” about my assignment to rank health priorities in my biomedical ethics course.

    I agree with you, of course, in total. I get the feeling that when folks want to be practical, it’s because they (and me, because I’m not excused from this exercise) are afraid to enact what we say are our values [compassion, non-violence, etc.] in the face of a system which actively discourages those values from being enacted. And we know it’s bad to sacrifice those values, so we can excuse it with rationality.

    Something is only practical if you’re interested in playing within a given system.

    I’m not.

    I think what I’m going to start saying, when folks tell me to be more “practical,” is this: I don’t find anything practical in letting someone suffer because we’re afraid that our values are impractical. I’m going to continue to be unpractical because I feel my values are not something I can sweep away when faced with a monolithic, totalitarian system of life.

    Eds. Michael J. Faris and ML Sugie (2006)